A/N: somehow I lost the orginal beginning to this story, so I typed in another one. If anyone has a copy of the original, I'd appreciate getting a copy of it.
It was an easy salt & burn - easy for us. A vengeful spirit was terrorizing a family and they'd about run out of options other than moving out of their home when somebody told somebody who told them about us. So here we were.
The family lived on an old farm in an old farmhouse surrounded by a new housing development being ground out of what used to be the rest of the farm. A few days' research at the Town Clerk, the Village Offices, and the Historical Society told us it was probably a previous owner of the house upset over his old farmland being torn up and sold off. Fortunately, the old family cemetery was on land that belonged to this landowner, and with his firm, 'You do whatever you have to', we got to work.
Good for us, the grave was in an isolated spot on the old back 40, so we could work in the daylight.
Sam was just fourteen, Dean was seventeen. Sam was having his first growth spurt but Dean still had height on him, and he was lean but filling out where Sam was just gangly, all knees, eyes and elbows. As usual, once the grave was dug and the coffin was open, Dean walked the edge of the grave, pouring salt while I poured gasoline, and as usual, Sam walked just behind him. Watching. Taking it all in.
The family stood a ways beyond us. The father had one arm around his wife and one hand spanning the shoulders of his very young sons who stood side by side in front of them. I didn't want them there, I wanted them somewhere safe, but the grim look on the father's face told me he needed to be there, needed to see his enemy burned to ashes. And he didn't want his family out of his sight. Those were both sentiments I could get behind.
"Dad?" Sam moved closer to the edge of the grave, shining his flashlight down into it.
"Get back Sam." Dean told him. "This is about to go nitro."
"I think he's missing a finger."
"It's an old grave." I told him. "Bones fall off. It's in there."
"But I saw ."
"Sam – get back." Dean pulled him away from the edge and when he knew they were far enough away, he nodded to me. I lit the matches and dropped them in and goodbye Farmer Cranky.
Only it wasn't.
A wild howling wind filled the clearing, blowing past us, over the grave, and right into the family. The smallest boy, probably four years old, was knocked from his father's grip and dragged across the grass and hard ground. His brother, probably all of six, flung himself on top of him, hollering with all his big brother courage, "Let him go! You let him go now!"
The parents ran after their boys, and Dean, Sam and I ran after the parents, who grabbed the boys and managed to stop their trek. The howling increased and an ominous rumbling shook the trees.
"Did we miss something?" Dean shouted above the din.
"Dad – Dad I saw !" Sam tugged my arm to get my attention.
"What? What did you see?"
"In the barn – I saw – it looked like a finger in a jar. It was up on a shelf. It looked like he was missing a finger."
"Okay. Can you find it again? Go with Dean and show him where it is."
I got The Look. In the midst of chaos and devastation, I got the Sam Winchester 'I'm not a baby, I don't need Dean to go with me' look. He set his jaw and narrowed his eyes and looked so much like his mother I would've smiled at him if we weren't in the middle of – did I mention? chaos and devastation. I was saved from repeating myself by Dean grabbing hold of his arm and pushing him toward the ancient barn a few dozen yards away.
"C'mon Sasquatch. We gotta hurry!"
They took off running and I grabbed another container of salt out of my duffel and made a fast circle around the family where they huddled on the ground, the father trying to shield his wife and sons with his body. The howling and the rumbling kept on.
In a couple of minutes, Sam was running back, carrying a jar in his hands. Dean was trying hard to catch up, calling "Sam – wait."
I saw what he was talking about too late. The jar was capped and filled with liquid that was probably –
"SAM – DON'T!"
One Molotov Cocktail coming up.
Sam ran right up to the edge of the grave, right where the flames were high enough to reach his feet, and pulled his hand back to lob that jar into the grave. Dean was running hard from one direction and I ran hard from the other. Dean grabbed Sam first, whirling him around and flinging them both onto the ground as the bottle pitched into the fire. I reached them just as the bottle exploded and put myself between them and the heat and shattered glass that punched out of the grave, praying they were okay and hoping that finger hadn't been booted into the field or we'd have a hell of a time finding it again.
Crouched over the boys, I waited, listening. The howling and rumbling stopped, rolling off into the distance like thunder. Dean started to get up, get off of Sam, but I stopped him, made him wait just a minute more until I was sure it was safe. Until there was silence.
Goodbye Farmer Cranky.
"C'mon Sasquatch, enough lollygaggin'." Dean said when I let him stand up. He put a hand down to help Sam up, but Sam didn't move. He lay face down in the grass and dirt, arms pressed over his head. Breathing – but not moving.
"SAM?" I grabbed his shoulder and flipped him over, forgetting in my desperation everything I knew about first aid and not jostling an injured person. I had to see his face. I had to know that he was all right.
He tried to put his hands over his face but I pulled them away. At least he was conscious.
"Are you all right?"
He nodded but didn't look at me. His eyes went over my shoulder – looking for Dean – and he nodded again, needing to reaffirm it to his brother. I stood up. I meant to help him up, brush him off, make sure he was really okay, but all I could think was that he came that close to being seriously injured and getting Dean injured trying to save him, and it was more than I could handle right then. I hauled him to his feet.
"What the hell were you thinking? You don't throw an unknown substance into a fire. That could've been anything. You could've been burned or blinded or worse."
I stopped because I was getting another Sam Winchester Look. Another one he got from his mother – jaw set, lips pressed thin, eyes glittering. Mary could put more argument in one expression than most people have in their whole repertoire and Sam's just like her that way. He was giving me a full on argument and he didn't have to say a single word.
I let go of his jacket and made a motion of brushing it off and turned to Dean.
"You okay? You didn't get hurt? Okay, c'mon then, let's get this wrapped up."
"What about them?" Dean asked, gesturing to the family. Honestly, I'd forgotten about them. I wasn't used to an audience. I walked over to them, the father was checking over his kids the way I'd checked over mine.
"Yeah. Thanks to you and your sons. It's over now?"
"Should be." I looked around, looking for any sign that it wasn't okay. "As soon as there's just embers, we'll fill the grave back in and you shouldn't have any more trouble."
He stood up and shook my hand hard his family was safe. The look of relief on his face was all the thanks I ever need on a job like this.
"What can I do to help?" he asked. I looked at him, He was young, maybe as young as I was when the boys were his kids' ages. Young and wanting to protect his family. His wife hadn't said a word; she was scared but determined I could see it. It'd be easy enough for me to offer to let them fill in the grave or even just help us do it. Filling in was easier than digging a grave out and it might give them a more definite sense of resolution. But their boys were pale and shaking, scratched up from their little trip across the field. I wouldn't risk those parents getting a false taste of this job in their mouths, not when those boys would have a normal life without it.
"We're all set. We'll finish up here."
"I want to take care of my family."
"And you did. You called us and you let us do our job. Now your job is to go back to your house and get on with your life. The second you think anything else might be happening, you call me and we'll be back to take care of it."
He thanked me again and as he shepherded his family back to their house, I turned to my family. Dean met my eyes and smiled. Sometimes I think he's a little too into the dangers of this job, but he appreciates the reasons we do it too. Them. The people we help, the families we save. And he was looking pretty proud of himself at the moment.
Sam though, he was another story. He stood behind Dean, as usual, close enough that he had to be almost stepping on his heels. Head down, hands in his pockets, bangs nearly covering his eyes. He hated it when things didn't go right, when he didn't do things right. He'd done what he'd done out of concern for the family, not pure recklessness, I knew that. Reckless and me had been pretty close friends when I first started this job. It didn't last long, but I could recognize it, and it wasn't in Sam. He had a good heart and good instincts; he just needed a little more experience.
I walked over to them and put a hand on each. Sam raised his head but not enough to look at me.
"Okay boys, we'll wait until the fire is completely out then fill in the grave and head back to the motel. I don't know about you but I'm beat."
"I could go another round." Dean said.
"You mean like filling the grave in all by yourself?" I asked.
"Uh – well – uh – I – uh." Sometimes he babbled when he didn't have a good answer. Sometimes, like now, it was just part of his smart ass answer. Sam didn't say anything; he was reliving that moment in his head. And if he was figuring out the better way to handle the situation, that was good. If he was just berating himself, that wasn't good.
"Sam? There's water in my duffel, you get some for us?"
He nodded, but he didn't look at me. Dean looked at him and he looked at Dean, but not at me. I found myself really missing the days that I was his hero and not just his father. He scuffed over to my duffel and brought out two bottles of water. He handed one to me and one to Dean. I wondered why he didn't get one for himself. I was about to offer him mine but Dean only took a fast swig out of his then handed the bottle to Sam who took a long swallow. He offered it back but Dean waved him to keep it.
"C'mere, Sam, let me show you something." Dean started walking around the grave and Sam took a few quick steps to catch up. "See, this is about the only thing good about doing this at night. See down there, see the embers that are still red? At night it's easier to tell when they burn themselves out "
Dean leaned forward, resting his hands on his knees as he pointed out the dying embers to his brother. Sam copied him exactly, he'd been doing that a lot lately. I remember when he used to copy me. Well – Dean copies me, and Sam copies Dean, so I guess it's almost like he's copying me.
Almost. But I'll take what I can get.
Watching them circle the grave, Dean teaching, Sam learning, I felt so much love and pride and amazement that they're my sons. I love them because Mary gave them to me. I love them because they're smart and funny and stubborn and aggravating. They're both tall and getting taller and sometimes all I could see was the first night we had Sam home from the hospital and the three of us, the three Winchester 'men' fell asleep together in the rocking chair, Dean in one arm, Sam in the other and for just a moment my whole world was perfect.
"So, what do you think Sam?" Dean's voice reminded me I should be here in the present. "Can we fill in yet?"
And Sam circled the grave again, staring into the embers like they were tea leaves he could get a clue from. He didn't want to give the wrong answer. Either he was afraid of annoying me or afraid of disappointing Dean. Maybe both. Maybe just the one. Finally he knelt down and held a hand over the grave.
"It's still hot." He said. To Dean.
"That's not an answer." Dean told him.
"Well, if it's still hot, it's still burning. Right?"
I gave Dean a 'give him a break' look and said to Sam, "That's right. That's good checking for the heat. If we're doing this in the daylight, that's a good way to tell. We'll give it a little bit longer and check again."
Sam looked up at me. Finally. I think he even tested out a smile on me. Then, like always, he turned back to Dean for final approval. Which he got. Me he loves, Dean he worships. Not surprising considering the life I put them through.
Another twenty minutes and we all agreed the embers were burned out completely and we could fill the grave back in. I let the boys choose their spots first then I took a place near Sam. He didn't look at me and as he worked he managed to move so that his back was to me. I saw Dean give him a look but for once Sam avoided looking at him as much as he avoided looking at me. It didn't matter, not really.
I told myself that anyway.
When the grave was filled in and the grass put back on top of it like a jigsaw puzzle, we hefted our gear and headed for the car. Shovels and duffels went in the trunk then Dean turned, practically right into Sam, and did something I would've taken as manhandling if I thought Dean was capable of doing that to his brother.
Sam seemed to know something was up because I could hear him muttering, "Dean – no. Don't." But in a few neat moves Dean had the door open and Sam in the front seat in the middle between us. I knew what Dean was doing; he was trying to force Sam to be close to me, physically if nothing else. I didn't know if that was fair to Sam.
But I wasn't going to say anything.
It was a quiet drive back to the motel. Sam had Dean practically squished flat against the passenger door he was trying so hard to not be near me. I remembered being that age, so it didn't bother me. Much.
I missed my boy. Asking a million questions. Talking non stop. Going from top speed to dead stop in a heartbeat, falling asleep on my bed as soon as he laid himself down in it. Dean hadn't really gone through this phase. This 'need to distance myself' phase. I was hoping it wouldn't last long with Sam.
We came to a sandwich shop and I pulled in the parking lot so we could get dinner. I gave Dean some money.
"Here. Go get us – three of whatever." I told him.
"Sure thing." He got out and Sam made a move to follow him but I grabbed the shoulder of his jacket.
"Ahh – we need to talk." I told him and nodded to Dean to go on. Sam gave me a surprised, worried look then dropped his head, and when Dean shut the door and I let go of him, he slid as far away from me as he could.
I didn't say anything for a minute. I'd learned that silence is a terrible thing for a kid, for my kids anyway. After awhile Dean will sneak a look up at me, to see if I fell asleep I think sometimes. Sam will look up, but not at me, and not for a lot longer while than Dean ever waits.
"So ." I started. I would've waited longer but I wanted the conversation over before Dean got back. "What happened at the grave?"
"I didn't think."
"You didn't think through, Sam. There's a difference."
He still wasn't looking at me, but that was OK because I wouldn't have wanted him to see the smile on my face anyway. He was answering by rote I was pretty sure; he just wanted the lecture over and Dean back.
"Can you tell me the difference?"
"Umm – thinking through means looking at the next step after the one I'm taking now." He had to have learned that word for word from Dean.
"So – next time?"
"I won't do it wrong."
He looked up at me; he recognized that tone in my voice that said that he would look up at me. He couldn't have looked more crushed if he tried.
"You got good instincts, Sam. All three of us went through that barn and you saw that jar and you remembered it. If it weren't for that, we'd still be searching answers. That's good, you kept your eyes open and you got it taken care of. Don't ever lose that. But not listening when Dean and I both were telling you to stop isn't good. I know you cared about saving that family ." Something in his face made me stop. "What?"
"I didn't think you believed me about the finger. I think I cared more about being right than anything else."
"Well, I guess that's not a bad thing either." I couldn't help smiling outright then. Could this boy be any more his mother's child? I put my hand on his shoulder, meaning it affectionately, but he froze and pulled away and I pretended I didn't notice.
Dean was back then, bundling himself and four big take out bags into the front seat, making Sam hold two of them when he wouldn't move over enough to put the bags on the seat between them.
From there to the motel wasn't far and soon we were pulled up in front of our room. The boys got out, Sam practically pushing Dean out trying to get away from me as fast as he could. They were far enough away that I indulged myself in a sigh at just how messed up everything was. Sitting there, watching Dean open the motel door, watching Sam shouldering him to be the first one in and Dean putting up a good fight until he let Sam win, seeing the light turn on and the butt ugly curtains open and the crappy 'did somebody really pay for that?' artwork hanging over the beds, it just hit me again how much I wanted my life to be different.
We should be pulling up to the house, our house, from a day of fishing or playing football or shopping the mall for stuff the boys don't need but we want to buy for them anyway. Mary should be here, making dinner, fussing over the boys, busy and happy and alive. The boys should have real beds and real bedrooms and too much crap that I keep telling them to get organized or get rid of. Dean should be worried about girlfriends and getting into college, Sam should be worried about soccer and nothing else.
Yet here we are.
Dean's voice at my window startled me. He looked worried. Probably wondering if I'm taking off again somewhere without them.
"I'm coming. I just – was thinking about something. I'm coming."
Usually I don't notice the insides of the motel rooms we stay at. Once I check them for bad guys both the supernatural and the creepy crawly kind – and lay down the salt and make sure the locks all work, I don't pay much attention. But this time – it was all stark and ugly and painful to look at. This room. Our lives.
Sam's hands and face looked freshly washed. He was laying the food out on the round fake wood table near the window. And there was a lot of food. Dean apparently bought out the store. Which was really just as well. Forget shrigtas, poltergeists and werewolves – my biggest concern was that the boys would starve to death.
Dean washed up, and I did, and we all sat down to a quiet meal, too tired and too hungry to talk much. Sam sat closer to Dean than to me, which was really okay because it gave me a chance to watch him. Both of them. The two most perfect boys in all of creation. My boys.
"Hey, Sam," Dean said. "After dinner, when you take a shower, put your clothes out so I can go do laundry."
"I don't want to take a shower."
"What part of 'digging a grave' doesn't say 'dirt' to you?" Dean asked him, and Sam grumbled and shook his head in a typical 'yeah, whatever, I'll do it but not 'cause I want to' gesture. It used to be that both boys grumbled when it came to taking a shower, until Dean discovered girls and then I could hardly get him out of the shower. Sam though, he was still at the age where he could go two weeks without. But he'd do it now because Dean told him to.
Me Sam loves; Dean he worships.
So Sam got his pajamas, the sweats and t shirt and baggy socks that passed for pajamas and went into the bathroom.
"You don't have to do laundry tonight." I told Dean.
"Sam's wearing my last clean shirt and I'm wearing yours. We need laundry. It's a block away, it's fine." He went to his bed and started digging through his duffel bag for laundry. I was about to do the Same thing when the bathroom door opened and Sam looked out.
He looked – sad. Worried. Something.
"Are you okay?" I asked him.
"Yeah. Uh – yeah. I just – I just ."
You just want Dean, I thought.
"What's goin' on, Sam?" Dean went to the bathroom door. He leaned a shoulder against the frame, folded his arms and crossed one foot over the other and looked so damned grown up standing there like that. My boys weren't going to be boys much longer.
I moved a little bit away, to give them the illusion of privacy that's always hard to come by in a motel room, but not far enough away that I couldn't hear them talking. I couldn't make out most of the words, but their tones were clear: Sam was worried, Dean was reassuring. Friends and acquaintances have said that living the way we do, I've made Dean be a father to Sam. The truth is, I made Dean have to be a mother to him too. Brothers are rough housing and snide remarks, fathers are teaching and protection, mothers are gentleness and understanding. Dean has all of those and more when it comes to Sam.
Sam was maybe worried still about the exploding grave, but he had to be really worried to risk talking to Dean about it when I was around. Then I caught the words, "Dad won't be mad," from Dean. Nothing piques the interest like the words 'make Dad mad' anywhere in a sentence.
Not that I was doing much, but I stopped even that to be able to hear what was coming next. It sounded a lot like,
"No, don't worry. Just go ahead. No, really. It'll be okay."
Something got decided I guessed because Sam handed over his dirty clothes and Dean came out to the room to put them in the duffel to take to the laundry. He gave me a funny look, somewhere between amused and really happy and I wondered what in the world was going on.
Sam came out of the bathroom then, looking like he had to tell me he crashed the car and I started to really worry. Whatever it was seemed like it had to be worse than just his impromptu explosion at the grave. I walked over to him.
"Sam – what's going on? Are you okay?"
"I – uh – I – wanted – I wanted ." He looked at Dean and so did I. Dean was grinning which meant that something good was going on. I still worried.
"Sam? What?" I reached out to put my hand on his shoulder and ended up in a bear hug from my baby boy. I was surprised but that didn't last long before it turned into a big puddle of this feels right. I held Sam as tight as I could, happy and grateful and grinning like a fool probably.
"Hey kiddo – you okay?" I still had to ask, just to be sure. He nodded against my shoulder and didn't say anything. Dean caught my eye and mouthed 'be right back' and left with our laundry. He was still grinning too. I wondered if this was his idea. I know he knows when I'm in a melancholy mood, and he probably knows I'd feel like there was some good left in the world if only there was some innocence left in Sam.
We stood there awhile because I sure wasn't going to let go before Sam did. I gave into the temptation to ruffle his hair and kiss the top of his head and took it as a good sign when I didn't hear 'eww gross' muttered into my shoulder.
After another little while though I asked him, "What d'you say we see what's on TV?"
We sat on my bed together and found a hockey game to watch and Sam was asleep before the first penalty, his head on my shoulder and safe inside my arm.
Sam can worship Dean all he wants. Me he loves.